The practical experience requirement (PER) has been called the ‘pink elephant in the room’ by ACCA students, the big ugly truth that no one wants to acknowledge, that everyone tries to ignore, but that ultimately won’t go away. Why?
‘Well most of us are trying to get to grips with surviving tuition, exam revision, practice kits and test-day preparation,’ remembers ACCA member Khadijat Ezimokhai, ‘and especially for full-time students, we think PER doesn’t apply to us.’
Instead of letting it get you down, why not see it as the platform that will launch your career? After all, ACCA wouldn’t make it a requirement for membership unless the performance objectives (POs), professional experience and skills and understanding of ethical practice you acquire during PER weren’t all prerequisites for the legitimacy of a high-quality qualification trusted by employers globally – and that provides its members with professional credibility and confidence.
Not just a bunch of POs
Use PER strategically. View it as a chance to apply knowledge from the papers in real situations, to learn about yourself and what specialty you’re interested in. Build your portfolio of all-important professional skills, such as time management, organisation, leadership and communication. As opposed to just ticking off a bunch of boxes as quickly as possible, use the time and structure of PER to really consolidate all your skills and knowledge and strive to become a ‘complete professional package’. Once you’re a member and working in more senior roles, you may not have the luxury of being able to train within a framework, so make the most of the time to develop yourself.
Goals and targets
Set yourself goals for the job you ultimately want and when you want it. Plan your career path specifically; the more you come to understand the journey you want to take and industry/role you want to work in, the easier it will be to achieve each step. As you build up the relevant skills you need for each goal, make sure you update your CV and especially your LinkedIn profile. If your LinkedIn profile can reflect the skills you’re quickly gaining during PER and point to the next role in your career plan, you’ll start to look more relevant and marketable to people in your chosen field.
PER is a time to learn how to network effectively. Once you’ve begun to determine your career strategy, at least the first phase, you can start to think about the companies, the recruiters and peers you need to be in touch with to help future progression. Networking isn’t all about getting the next position, but it may be that meeting someone today will help you get a job in five years, so keep a long-term view when making contact with people. Again, LinkedIn is a great first place to network, but nothing beats the shake of a hand, so find professional events you can attend, get in touch with your local ACCA office, local business societies and recruitment consultants.
Getting on the ladder
‘Everyone has their own stance on getting on the career ladder and a lot of people may disagree with my notion but I got to where I am due to the choices I made,’ says ACCA member Safwan Kamal, ‘and when I look back, I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t taken up that first unpaid opportunity at a small accountancy practice, and it wasn't just handed to me – I worked hard for it. Happily, it turned into full-time paid employment after six months or so. Not only did it complement my studies, but along the way I also learned all the bits that are necessary to be good at your job, but are not specifically taught anywhere else.’
Even if it’s just a few hours a week, volunteering at a company or for a charity in their finance department, for example, can be enough to achieve relevant POs. Starting out in smaller companies can give you greater exposure to a whole business and you may find that you learn quickly and gain more responsibility than you would at a larger firm.
The fact is it’s a lot easier to find your next role and begin your career plan once you’re in a professional environment. So get yourself into the market or on the ladder in any way you can.
Neil Johnson, freelance writer